The 10 Biggest Threats to Humanity in 2018Feb 10, 2018
Remember at the end of 2016 when we were all like “Well, that was awful, at least it can’t get any worse”? How naive we were. Now true enough, there are good things going on in the world, and plenty of things to be optimistic about. But at times, it seems like for all the progress we make, we open ourselves up to newer and worse potential problems. The world could be sleepwalking into a major crisis without most of us even realizing it, and though it’s impossible to know for sure, one of the following threats seems most likely to cause problems for humanity, if action isn’t taken to avert disaster soon.
1. Failure of Democracy
The last few years have delivered several massive events which have rocked the core of many democratic countries around the world. Never in living memory has the political situation in so many nations been so divided and polarized, and with this, comes heightened conflict. The risk of a regime turning away from democracy and towards forceful rule, or the risk of an opposition abandoning the democratic route to power and instead opting for armed-resistance, becomes less and less far-fetched. But even stopping short of this type of drastic action, the faith of society in democracy does seem to be eroding at a steady and alarming pace, and when that’s gone, who knows what will fill that vacuum.
2. Rising Inequality
The gap between those who have the most and those who have the least grows every year, sadly, this isn’t all that new. But the rate at which the gap grows is increasing exponentially, with the wealthiest becoming an even smaller group. This is true not only domestically in almost every country in the world, but also on a global scale. The many technological and social advances of the last few decades have had a generally positive effect on humanity as a whole, but that positive effect has been felt disproportionately by those in developed countries. This is likely not only to continue, but to worsen, with advances in fields such as bio-engineering and cognitive-enhancement drugs, which will doubtlessly benefit richer, more advanced countries a lot more than others.
3. Cyberwarfare & Hacking
The face of warfare has changed constantly since man’s beginnings, and that seems unlikely to change. It’s expected that, as technology advances and societies become more reliant on it, warfare will increasingly become about cyber attacks which massively disrupt countries’ infrastructure and services. Now, with some large companies and corporations providing more crucial services than the state, the vulnerability of these companies to hackers could well be disastrous. The difficulty with most types of cyber warfare and hacking is to trace with certainty the perpetrator of the attack, which could also lead to mistaken retaliation.
4. Fish Extinction
We’ve been aware of the risks posed by overfishing for many years – some reports indicating that if we were to carry on as we are, all the world’s fisheries could be depleted in the next few decades. The increasing use of unmanned fishing vessels and so-called drone ships will likely worsen the problem. Pollution is also having an equally damaging effect on the world’s oceans, and though some countries are taking steps to cut down on plastics, these actions may prove to be too little, too late. Large-scale fish extinction would not only have a huge impact on the global food supply, but would also do terrible damage to the sea’s ecosystems.
5. Robot Warfare
The idea of robots taking over the Earth is one we’re pretty familiar with, having seen it depicted in countless sci-fi books, movies and TV shows. But it’s only in the last few years that this has actually become a much more realistic possibility, and moved out of the realms of fantasy. AI has played a part in warfare for a few years – drones have been in use since 2001 – but the advances made in this field on autonomous weaponry, military vehicles and armaments could be devastating not only to those they are intended to be used against, but to the entire world, if something were to go wrong. Autonomous self-targeting weaponry is currently being tested by a number of different military forces around the world, much to the alarm of tech experts.
6. Global Financial Crisis, Pt 2
Many parts of the world haven’t fully recovered from the last global financial crisis, mainly because it went so unpredicted and caught most governments totally off guard. It’s perhaps a testament to the volatility of our global financial systems that the possibility of us sleepwalking into another crisis on a similar scale is relatively high. Worse still is the fact that experts agree that another financial crash would most likely be worse than the previous one, its effects being further-reaching and more disruptive. Our reliance on the financial markets has, if anything, grown since the last crash, begging the question of whether any lessons were learned at all.
7. Nuclear Conflict
Though sometimes the threat of nuclear war can be over-stated, it doesn’t mean that nuclear conflict of some kind is totally unrealistic. The world is all too aware of escalating tensions which have brought the US and the hermit state of North Korea to a level of brinkmanship unseen since the Cold War. Though the most pressing concern is the threat of nuclear conflict between nation states, there is also a growing risk that terrorist groups try to get their hands on nuclear devices. In 2015, it was revealed that ISIS-linked terrorists in Belgium had been following a high-ranking nuclear official for some time, with a view to using him to access nuclear material.
8. Food Shortages
With so many people on Earth to feed and the global food supply chain being so complex, the consequences of a food shortage would be disastrous. Unfortunately, according to experts, the likelihood of this type of event happening is increasing. With natural disasters, droughts and extreme weather becoming more common, experts believe if a food shortage coincided with a major political upheaval of some type, it could affect people all over the world.
9. The Death of the Internet
Large-scale cyber attacks pose an obvious risk to the internet and our access to it, but researchers are now equally concerned about the potential risks of low-level algorithms to the internet. As we advance AI technology, and therefore algorithms become self-reliant and write their own code, we lose full control of them and become increasingly at risk of negative side effects. Some researchers have suggested that low-level algorithms could eventually choke off the internet, almost like an infestation of weeds, snaring the roots of a giant oak.
In many countries around the world can we witness an increase – or a resurgence – of nationalistic ideas, which has often manifested itself in violent protests or harmful policies. The world is already embroiled in a dire refugee crisis, and this could worsen if the current tide of nationalism extends to more countries willing to expel their minority groups – as it has been the case with Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. At a time when humanity seems to be facing a number of existential threats, many of which will likely require global cooperation to combat, this rising tide of isolationism and nationalism could prevent us from putting into action real efforts to save the planet.